Children aren’t born knowing how to handle conflict, so occasional arguments are unlikely to cause lasting harm if they’re handled well. In fact, seeing you work together to resolve issues teaches your children valuable skills. For example, by working together to resolve differences, you show your children how to negotiate and solve problems effectively. This also teaches children that difference and conflict are a part of life. It can also be reassuring when you show optimism that a problem will be worked out, as can a simple explanation of how you’ve resolved a disagreement.
The difficulty comes when parents fight a lot and don’t resolve their differences. This can be distressing and harmful for children. The more parents argue, the more it affects children. Severe and frequent conflict can lead to a higher risk of emotional, behavioral and social problems. Children are more likely to be disobedient and to experience problems such as depression, aggression, or poor performance at school. Unhealthy conflict affects children badly, whether parents are together or separated. Even when there’s no arguing, any discord, anger or unspoken hostility can cause distress.
Conflict can be particularly harmful if it involves abuse, threats or disputes about a child in front of the child. Physical violence makes things even worse. Children who grow up seeing physical violence are more likely to experience personal and social problems as adults.
Some children cope better with conflict than others. Factors such as temperament and age make a difference. So does the type and frequency of the conflict. Younger children are more likely to show that they’re upset. Throwing tantrums, or becoming more difficult to manage, might be signs of stress. Older children might experience social problems such as depression and negative self-esteem.